I've just spent a ridiculous three and a half months reading Skagboys, by Irvine Welsh. It was the biggest book in my to-read pile, and so I decided to read it in plank position, holding the body straight whilst resting on toes and forearms.
I mentioned here that I was going to attempt to read it in 2 months. Well, that was a fail. What was not a fail was the attempt to beat my planking record of 4:02.
I started on 27th June, getting 2:05. On 5th October, when I was close to the novel's closing pages, I managed to get it up to 4:40. Not a huge improvement, but an improvement nonetheless. I finished on 13th October. I was mixing in a ton of boxing and gym sessions, so I didn't always have the strength to endure planking afterwards. When planking I found it a little hard to follow the plot, but each individual chapter was fascinating in its own way. Sometimes third person, sometimes first from a selection of the main characters, the narrative weaves seamlessly through Edinburgh's seedy 80's underbelly.
The prequel to Trainspotting, Skagboys follows the lives of Renton, Begbie, Spud and Sick Boy as they slip into petty crime, addiction, poverty, violence and depression. Each character is bold and different enough to show a unique insight into their shared world, letting you (if you've already read Trainspotting) see what molded them into the misfits they are in the original novel.
Welsh marvelously handles the task of bringing intelligent literature to his audience through various narrators, some of whom aren't particularly eloquent. But you never get the feeling Welsh is putting his “writer voice” into his weaker characters- he understands their limitations and presents them accordingly, but draws out your empathy- even, dare I say it, from the psychotic Begbie. You get to see what makes him the tyrant he is (and continues to be through the two sequels).
Sometimes the plot lost me, largely because it's hard to concentrate when you've been in plank for the last few minutes. But it was also because the events are less a plot and more a series of events that lead toward a conclusion- from the group's introduction to heroin, through to the supplier's sacking and subsequent skag-drought, towards the protagonists' increasingly desperate decisions. Once I'd finished the book I checked Wikipedia for the plot synopsis. It was only then I put together the scenes and saw how everything loosely edges towards the final outcomes. It also reminded me of some of the hilarious, awkward and frequently brutal depictions that appear right from the get-go.
Regardless, the narrative is gripping and the language fantastic. Fans of Welsh's work will not be disappointed.
The exercise is still a great way of staying in shape and enjoying good literature. Don't say you don't have time for books!